Vir Das almost broke through in a broadcast primetime sitcom in America this year, starring in a backdoor pilot spinoff episode of Fresh Off The Boat on ABC. ABC executives said this year they weren’t ready to move forward with his spinoff, but in the meantime, Das is showing off his stand-up skills on Netflix.
His 2020 special, For India, was filmed in India but treated as both an introduction to his native land for American audiences, as well as giving his Indian brothers and sisters a fresh perspective on their own culture.
As I wrote in January:
Pulling off comedy and satire within a history or cultural lesson can be a stretch. Especially when you remember that some countries define “freedom of speech” a little less freely than ours.
But Das pulls it off with aplomb.
From the little but ubiquitous things Indians eat and drink (chyawanprash, Parle-G biscuits, Old Monk rum) to the notion of desiring a skin-lightening cream called “Fair & Lovely,” Das reminds us how any society can bake in its own internal defects and call it a tradition. And there’s no bigger India tradition in contemporary society like Bollywood.
So Das offers a filmography to brush up on the stories India tells itself, from 1977’s Amar Akbar Anthony to 2001’s Dil Chahta Hai to 1962’s Bees Saal Baad.
He jokes about colonizers and white Bollywood stars, about how more than a million Indians fought in World War II, and how nobody seems to know the right way to solve India’s policies in Kashmir today. But he finds comfort in how India has learned from past tragedies, and the lesson he learned while working in Mumbai on the day of the 2008 terrorist attacks there (known as 26/11). He’d already learned something even bigger years earlier, when he moved to Chicago in 2005 to learn comedy, and had a gay Indian roommate there. Neither of them could live out their dreams in India then. They can now.